A rich and layered love story that begins in innocence and moves through hardship toward a broad humanity.

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THE KITES

Hero of the French Resistance, diplomat, and two-time recipient of the Prix Goncourt under two different pen names, Gary (1914-1980; The Life Before Us, 1975, etc.) examines the fates of young love, naiveté, and idealism in his final novel, set in France during World War II and being published in English for the first time.

Ludo Fleury, an orphan raised in Normandy by his eccentric kite-building uncle Ambrose, suffers like the rest of his family from "an excess of memory." As a boy he falls desperately in love with a Polish nobleman's daughter, the beautiful and spirited Lila de Bronicki. Ludo visits the Bronicki estate in Poland ("a country accustomed to being reborn from its own ashes"), discusses politics with Lila’s brother, and competes with her German cousin Hans and a musical prodigy named Bruno for her affection. But war is looming, and the lives of all five become inexorably entangled in it. Gary, a Lithuanian Jew whose real name was Roman Kacew and whose life story reads more like fiction, writes with knowledge and empathy about occupied France and the struggle of ordinary people to resist. " 'Sensible' men...printed and distributed papers in which they spoke of 'immortality,' a word they employed frequently, despite the fact that they were always the first to die." The Fleurys' neighbor, a famous chef accused of collaborating, insists that just by setting foot in his restaurant, "any German with a shred of sense...can see he's dealing with supremacy, with historical invincibility." Ludo sustains himself with detailed memories of his time with Lila, though a fellow Resistance fighter warns him that when he sees her again she will have changed: "Even ideas stop resembling themselves when they're embodied." Gary's nuanced story avoids easy dichotomies. Ludo can't shake the idea that "the Nazis were human. And what was human about them was their inhumanity." Finding a dying German soldier, he thinks at first he recognizes the man, then realizes "what was familiar to me was the expression of suffering...German or French, in those moments, it's interchangeable."

A rich and layered love story that begins in innocence and moves through hardship toward a broad humanity.

Pub Date: Oct. 31, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2655-4

Page Count: 375

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: Aug. 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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